18th Mar 2018

Eastern bloc wants fewer EU powers, more security

  • Szydlo (l), Merkel, Fico, Orban and Sobotka met on Friday to discuss EU reform (Photo: P. Tracz/KPRM)

Central and eastern European leaders have reiterated the need for more national power in EU policy-making during talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Warsaw on Friday (26 August).

Merkel met with the heads of the Visegrad group of four countries (V4) - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - as part of a European tour prior to the summit, in Bratislava on 16 September, on post-Brexit EU reform.

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She is meeting 15 EU leaders this week in an effort to bridge gaps between capitals, which have divergent views on how to react to the UK’s shocking decision to leave.

She told press in Poland on Friday that Brexit should give impetus to reform, calling it a “turning point in the history of European integration”.

Some countries, such as Italy, have called for a leap forward in EU powers, but the V4 believe people want less policy-making in Brussels.

The V4 are also fierce critics of Merkel’s open-door policy on immigration and of EU-imposed migrant relocation quotas.

Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo, who holds the rotating presidency of the V4 said alongside Merkel that the European project “must be rooted in the needs of real democratic communities - national democracies”.

Hungary’s pugilistic leader, Viktor Orban, earlier in the day announced the building of a new, reinforced border fence to keep out migrants from Hungary.

He told the V4+Merkel event that European institutions should go back to their “roots”.

“The European Council and only the council should lead the EU," he said, referring to an intergovernmental body in Brussels where member states thrash out deals.

"The European Commission should stop acting as a political actor, and should return to being the guardian of the treaties,” he added.

He said immigration and social policies in particular should stay in national hands.

Szydlo and Orban, who have faced EU criticism for abusing rule of law at home, said Brexit was a symptom, not a cause of Europe’s problems.

Despite their euroscepticism, Orban and Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka called for the creation of a European army to reinforce defence cooperation.

Szydlo also said the EU’s main priority should be the security of its citizens, amid concern on Russian revanchism and Middle East terrorism.

Slovakia’s prime minister Rober Fico, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, was more cautious. "The truth is that different countries have quite different opinions [on the EU reform],” he said.

Fico also called for better communication between EU institutions, capitals, and average people.

Merkel agreed, saying that Britain’s decision to leave had exposed the need for better communication within the bloc.

On migration, Merkel said the EU could limit the flow of asylum seekers by doing deals with source and transit countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Later on Friday, Merkel is to meet, back in Germany, with the prime ministers of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Sweden to continue her pre-Bratislava deliberations.

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